Posts categorized “PDA”.

Apple’s tablet history

November 11th, 2010

Ryan Vetter at Liquidpubs:

Since the Macintosh division, as well as many others at Apple, saw the Newton as something that could very well make desktop computers extinct, they decided to develop a Newton-like Mac. Something that could act like a portable, slate-like device. But, unlike the Newton, these devices would run Mac software, with a full Mac operating system, and work with a keyboard and mouse. It was a bridge between the original Macintosh and the new, mobile powerhouse: the Newton.

What proceeds this is a fascinating tour of Apple’s history designing tablet computers – and not just the Newton, but tablet-style Apple IIs and Macs as well.

Reading through this, you get the impression that the folks at Apple have been obsessed with portables for a very long time. All these years later, it’s what the company is best know for.

[Via Minimal Mac.]

Newton Collection

August 12th, 2010

Magic Link

Mark Johnson shared a new collection of Newton photos, straight from his collection, from his site Newton Collection.

Johnson shares a bunch of photos of other Newton-powered PDAs, as well, such as the Sony Magic Link and Motorola Marco.

“I started collecting Newtons as they are easier to store than Macs,” he told me. “Space is a premium!”

Blake Patterson’s PDA collection

July 21st, 2010

PDA Collection, by Blakespot

Blake Patterson of Touch Arcade and Byte Cellar (check out my interview with Blake) shared his PDA collection over at Flickr.

It’s pretty impressive, what with the Newtons, Compaq iPaq, Sony MagicLink (with Magic Cap OS), and Philips Nino prototype. The retrospective just shows how far we’ve come – from pen-based B&W screens to today’s magic pixie dust.

[Photo courtesy of Blake's Flickr album under the Creative Commons, heads-up courtesy of Blake himself.]

Newton quote of the week: for the pros

March 18th, 2010

“Most of the people who developed these PDAs developed them because they thought individuals were going to buy them and give them to their families. My friends started General Magic [a new company that hopes to challenge the Newton]. They think your kids are going to have these, your grandmother’s going to have one, and you’re going to all send messages. Well, at $1,500 a pop with a cellular modem in them, I don’t think too many people are going to buy three or four for their family. The people who are going to buy them in the first five years are mobile professionals.”

- Steve Jobs in a great Rolling Stone interview from 1994. Lots of quotable Steve in there.

The tablet before the tablet

January 25th, 2010

Newton tablet mockup

Now that an Apple event later this month is official, the tablet rumor mill will churn with industrial-level speed.

The consensus, from what I’ve read: 7-10″ touchscreen, digestable media (print, video, and otherwise), apps ala carte, and some sort of web connection. All that’s almost certain. And, on the surface, the rumored Apple tablet sounds like an updated Newton MessagePad.

Any similarities are superficial, of course. At 12 years old, even the youngest Newton shows it age. But let’s say we were to take a MessagePad 2000 or 2100, or even an eMate 300, and bring it as close to a modern-day Apple tablet as possible. What would we need?

To start, we’d need applications – and lots of them. We’d also need some connectivity with our Macs or PCs. Some sort of media viewability would have to be there, as would an Internet connection. For people to use it, they need to easily understand how it works. Lastly, we’d need support from Apple.

Fat chance on that last one, and we’d never get a color screen, but the rest of that checklist is doable with the Newton. It wouldn’t be as fast, colorful, or rich as a yet-to-exist Apple tablet. But as a proto-tablet, the Newton is it.

As Wired points out in a recent article about network computer (from Oracle’s Larry Ellison):

We tend to think of technology as a steady march, a progression of increasingly better mousetraps that succeed based on their merits. But in the end, evolution may provide a better model for how technological battles are won. One mutation does not, by itself, define progress. Instead, it creates another potential path for development, sparking additional changes and improvements until one finally breaks through and establishes a new organism.

It’s a great article about how technology often gets ahead of itself in the idea department. In time, the tech catches up with the brainstorm.

I couldn’t help but think of the Newton while reading the piece. In this case, Apple pre-empts itself with its own device.

APPLICATIONS

We’ve seen pieces of the Newton, and of PDAs in general, transform into the modern smartphone: personal information management, notes, on-the-go apps. The Newton was made to be a stripped-down PC to take on the road; not quite as powerful, and much more portable, than a laptop. You could sync it with your computer, or you could run the device completely on its own.

Except for the syncing part, the iPhone does this. In fact, I know friends who only sync their iPhone when they have new iTunes content to upload. Most of the time they’re downloading apps and digesting music from Apple’s mobile apps. After the initial set-up, and if you ignore every software update available, it’s possible to control your iPhone without ever syncing again.

Same with the Newton. It was designed as a mobile computer – a standalone unite – just as some think that Apple’s supposed tablet might be.

Along with the hardware interface, the key is good software. The Newton had its share. In fact, it had apps like the ones Apple brags about in its iPhone commercials – financial apps, games, personal information apps, etc. Some developers are still making apps for the Newton, and work continues of Mac and Windows apps that help manage the device.

The iPhone’s popularity comes partly from its depth and breadth of apps. It’s safe to assume that this app-friendly environment will translate to the tablet.

USABILITY

The Newton’s level of abstraction – souping up a notepad metaphor and controlling it with a pen/stylus – helped make the device understandable. With a tablet, Apple has already done the hard work by standardizing the touchscreen interface. In both cases, Apple takes the prevailing interface innovation of the day and runs with it.

With the Newton, it was pen-based computing. With the iPhone, tablet, and even the mouse/trackpad, Apple is taking touch and building an empire.

MEDIA

In the Newton’s day, consuming iTunes-level media was tough. Hard drives weren’t big enough, Internet speeds weren’t fast enough, and the software didn’t exist to manage all that music and all those movies. We had Quicktime, and some simple CD players, but there’s no way I could have ripped my 8,000-song music library onto the computers of the day.

Given that, there were ways to consume media with the Newton. You can listen to music on one, with a little push and pull, and the Newton’s eBook format is still in use today, with tons of titles available. All before Amazon.com ever launched.

Think of the Newton, and the iPhone today, as the perfect airport device. If you don’t want to lug a bunch of books or a laptop on a trip, the portable Newton is perfect. Read a book, play a few games, scribble some notes to yourself. Whatever. If you’re a small business owner, or hooked up to a large corporate network, you can even get some work done.

This is the tablet ideal: something portable to carry all your consumable stuff.

INTERNET CONNECTION

The Newton was one of the first devices to help the idea of e-mail spread with NewtonMail. Here was a handhald mini computer that you could use to send faxes, make phone calls, and check your e-mail – and even browse the Internet.

A wifi card, a newer-model Newton, and some driver-fu, and you are still in business.

As fun and geeky as it is to connect with a Newton, it still pales to Mobile Safari. The web has grown up a lot, and it makes it almost silly to think about doing anything other than checking out text-only sites.

Now, exceptions exist. If you’re a member of the Newton community, half the fun is seeing how many exceptions you can create. But accessing the web is where the tablet will really shine.

The point is, Apple paved the way in accessing the web from a mobile device with the Newton. With the iPhone and soon, supposedly, the tablet, it’s built a mature system.

FAILURE BEFORE SUCCESS

As the Wired article shows, pioneering projects often come out before the world is ready for them. For Oracle, the network PC lacked the infrastructure to deliver Internet-on-demand computing. But it helped show that the desktop computer wasn’t the last best idea out there.

It is worth noting that, in retrospect, the Newton was an expensive gadget. Without comparing specs and ability, when you look at a $500 unsubsidized iPhone compared to a $1,000 PDA, it’s easy to see where the Newton stretched the average American’s budget too tightly. It could be that, at the time, the technology simply cost more then than comparable technology costs now. Lower costs certainly lead to wider adoption, which explains why the Newton struggled to gain momentum.

But still, with the Newton, the idea of a mobile, self-sustaining device that allows you to consume media, get some work done, and make connections in an intuitive way was set in motion before the world was ready. Apple has shown, with the iPod and iPhone model, that the MessagePad ideals are still viable and ready for action.

Now that everyone is waiting with clenched teeth for the rumored tablet, the Newton ideal seems like it has finally found its place in the world.

Notepods: the best HWR…kinda

October 19th, 2009

notepod

Take the iPhone form factor, marry it to the Newton’s stellar handwriting recognition, and you have the latest in PDA technology.

Well, kinda.

Above is a Notepod – a simple notepad shaped like an iPhone. For $18, you get three pocket-perfect notepads shipped from Australia. On the outside, you get a blank iPod Touch-like page, while the inside pages have grid-style paper for notes, doodles, or iPhone app ideas.

Maybe best of all, it recognizes your handwriting no matter how drunk you get – even if you don’t.

Or you can simply make your own with the Hipster PDA templates over at Active Voice. Whichever.

Via DIY Planner.

Newton quote of the week: obvious advantages

October 7th, 2009

“To be useful as a PDA, the Newton should anyway be always close. It is instant on, and the Notepad is capturing notes indexed by time. As a recording device, the Newton is unbeatable, and it has some pretty obvious advantages over the index card method: Backups are possible, storage is almost infinite, you can carry the whole system with you all the time, and you can search and extract more easily.”

- Eckhart Köppen, from the NewtonTalk list.

Newton quote of the week: unmatched 2

October 1st, 2009

“It is easy to cite examples where less capable products have superseded more capable products. My favorite example of that is PDAs. I still have three classic PDAs: HP200LX, Newton MessagePad 2100, and Psion Revo. All of these have been unavailable for a decade or more, yet in many ways each has features that have been unmatched in newer and ‘better’ products.”

- Michael Anderson at Gear Diary, on the “crapification” of products – or how we’re setting for “good enough.”

Magic Cap on a Newton MessagePad 110

August 31st, 2009

Sony Pic 1000 running Magic Cap

Something called Magic Cap has been mentioned in the NewtonTalk mailing list lately. It has some resonance in the Newton community: Magic Cap was a competing PDA paradigm, and was helped along by two Apple pros – Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld.

Developed by General Magic, Magic Cap was an operating system that operated with a room-based metaphor: you did work in your office, you went in the hallway to grab an app, and maybe you strolled outside to get something else done. Tasks were assigned objects in each room, like a notebook to write notes or a file cabinet to access files.

Steven Levy, writing for Wired, gives a good description of the Magic Cap OS:

It had a very nice interface that obviously drew upon Bill’s HyperCard and Andy’s Mac interface, with the unmistakable graphic imprint of Susan Kare. The basic screen looked like a desktop with various tools; on the desk was a postcard that one could fill out and send to anyone…And incidentally, the interface does not use handwriting recognition. You can use a pen or your finger to draw or write on the screen, but digital text is entered with a virtual keyboard – which, surprisingly, doesn’t work too badly for short messages.

Sony (above) and Motorola, among others, developed hardware for the Magic Cap OS in the early ’90s. It became quite the operating system, using object-oriented programming and connecting with the Information Super Highway (this was the ’90s), mirroring both the user-friendliness of the Mac and the usefulness of the Newton.

Funny thing, though: there’s a psuedo-version of Magic Cap, General Magic 1.5, for the Newton.

Phil Muller pointed me to UNNA.org’s archived version of Magic Cap/General Magic. I read that the MessagePad’s version of General Magic only worked on Newton OS 1.3 systems, and that it had only been tested on MP120s.

installgeneralmagic

My MP110, however, runs OS 1.3, so I downloaded the package file from UNNA and installed it using Newton Connection Kit (above). After a quick upload, I found General Magic in my Newton’s Extras – and what do you know, it launched fine.

Magic Cap on an MP110

General Magic presented a literal desktop interfact, complete with notepad (that led me back to Notes), calendar (that sent me to Dates), and both an Inbox and Outbox. In the upper corners of the screen, pointers directed me to the Hallway, where the rest of my packages – like Newtris and Pocket Money – sat inside picture frames. Click on the app icons with a stylus and the app opens up. Tony Kan over at My Apple Newton does a nice job of going through many of the Magic Cap apps and settings.

It’s a super-simple interface, and I supposed once you memorize what each icon represents (it wasn’t always intuitive for me), you can navigate your way around the Newton. General Magic is just another way to interface with the Newton OS (which is why it’s filed under “Backdrops” in UNNA’s archive), except with pictures and icons showing you where to go. It reminds me of Apple’s eWorld interface.

General Magic seems silly, though, when you need to make your way to your apps. Instead of the Extras drawer sliding up, showing you all your installed apps, you have to click your way down a hallway to view each app’s icon individually. I can’t imagine a circumstance where this would be easier than simply picking one icon from a few that are in the Newton’s Extras drawer.

Still, it’s a fun emulator to play with – especially considering Magic Cap was competing with the Newton back in the day.

Using your Newton with Linux

June 24th, 2009

linuxnewton

Here at Newton Poetry, there is One Supreme Operating system, and therefore most posts relate to the Newton interacting with the Mac environment.

I realize, however, that there are other operating systems out there. And, while I’m not a user, I respect that Newton fans can be Windows and Linux users. With Windows, there are tons of tips and how-tos on how to make connections and upload packages and whatnot. Sadly, we don’t hear as much from the Linux side.

Let’s put our operating system differences aside and help Newton users be better Newton users, shall we?

To start, I found the Newton and Linux mini-HOWTO, a site filled with questions and answers (like “How to upload a Newton package to Linux” and “Which Linux software is available”).

Some of the info seems to be dated. For instance, the author talks about Windows-emulating WINE to be a project slated in the future tense. Plus a few of the links are dead. But the basics are all there.

To get connected, there’s Newtonlink.  There are a few more Linux applications for the Newton over at TuxMobil.

Then again, you can always replace Linux on your PDA with the Newton OS. I’m just sayin’.

Any Linux users out there that have successfully paired their Ubuntu with a MessagePad or eMate? Let me know in the comments.